On Monday, Facebook handed the details of 3,000 advertisements, which were found to have links to Russian-state actors, to members of the United States Congress.
It is gradually being discovered that the Kremlin used Facebook as a medium to build electoral support for Donald J. Trump for the 2016 presidential election.
The ads in question did not directly focus on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, instead it appears that the messaging was geared at widening the racial divides of the US, reports the Washington Post. The social movement Black Lives Matter, for example, was a common theme of the Russian advertising campaign.
Specifics of these Russian-linked ads were not available to the public. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was initially reluctant to release details to Congress after cooperating with special counsel Robert Muller, reports Bloomberg. But on Thursday, Zuckerberg announced on Facebook Live that the social network would include elected officials into the discussion.
“I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity. I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine our democracy,” Zuckerberg said in a prepared statement on September 21.
The New York Times reports that since July Facebook has taken down 470 fake profiles and pages after it was discovered that they were linked to a Russian company known to work with the Kremlin. The pages had made over $100,000 worth of ad purchases which focused on deepening divides on subjects such as race, religion, and LGBT issues.
End Of Targeting Ads?
A panel of advertising consultants at the Advertising Week New York, an annual trade conference, speculated that Facebook will likely impose regulations on political advertisements going forward, as reported by Reuters.
Facebook and Google made up 20 percent of global advertising revenue last year, with Facebook bringing in $26.9 billion, according to media agency Zenith.
Zuckerberg has committed to monitoring advertisements associated with elections. The same Reuters report states that Facebook has plans to make political ads visible to all users of the platform, removing the ability of political campaigns to reach only relevant audiences.
Facebook has pioneered the concept of targeted advertisements. Based off of Facebook profile details, the buyer of an ad is able to select which demographics can see their post. This is useful for political campaigns that are interested in “finding” voters – the tagline for Facebook’s political advertising arm.
Examples Of Russian-Backed Facebook Pages and Profiles
- Being Patriotic: Taken down in August, this page had over 200,000 followers and even organized in-person rallies, as reported by The Daily Beast.
- Secured Borders: Taken down in August, this page focused on Muslim refugees in the United States. The Kremlin-linked page also tried to mobilize the town of Twin Falls, Idaho against recently resettled Muslim families in the state, as reported by the New York Times.